The 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS I bought at 17 was not a wise purchase. Oh, sure, it seemed beyond cool at the time. But blessed with a 454 LS7 big block and more than 500 horsepower, that car had more power than any teenager should ever be allowed to control.
Perhaps control is the wrong word, as it was utterly impossible to restrain the urge to lay long, smoky burnouts in front of my Prairie high school in the vain attempt to impress the cute girls in my class. That muscle car, which cost me a set of BF Goodrich tires in one month, also caused me to lose my driver's licence before I even reached 18, such was the addictive force of destruction that lived under the Chevelle's cowl-induction hood.
How quickly I am returned to those early days of recklessness and that insane level of horsepower while driving Chevrolet's 2013 Camaro ZL1 convertible -- its 580 horsepower revealed to those in the know by the ZL1 emblem on the aluminum hood, placed in the exact spot where Chevy inscribed Cowl Induction on the Chevelle.
And where the hood flap on the Chevelle clanked open for air every time the pedal was floored, the Camaro relies on large, gaping vents in the hood's carbon-fibre insert. Still, the effect is the same: The ZL1 leaves you always on the edge of pure excitement, not just because of what the car can do in a split second, but the legal trouble it can muster should you submit to any of its seductive powers.
Yes, that means smoky burnouts, which the ZL1 dispenses more easily than a blackjack dealer does cards. But the 6.2-litre LSA supercharged V-8 will also push the ZL1 Camaro convertible to 96 km/h in 4.1 seconds and run the quarter-mile in 12.3 seconds. The ZL1 Coupe even lapped Germany's Nxrburgring in 7:41, which is almost as fast as Porsche's 911 Carrera S.
Power aside, there is real joy found in driving this car, and this from someone who has not always had good things to say about the Camaro in general, mostly because of its unshaven interior and lack of cabin refinement. Yes, the ZL1 interior is better than your average Camaro, with great seats and some nice suede inserts, and the heads-up display makes up for the smallish instruments. But the steering wheel is still designed so it can't be held comfortably at three and nine.
The pleasure of the ZL1, however, is instant upon turning the key, when the crackling and thundering exhaust reveals this is no 2SS. Underway, it is also quickly apparent the ZL1 and its Magnetic Ride Control, coupled with those supportive leather and suede seats, work hard to provide an extremely comfortable ride under most driving conditions.
Even over very harsh roads, the ZL1's suspension is generously compliant. Yet when the call (or the urge) comes for speed or handling, the ZL1 simply switches its step, hunkers down and becomes all the sports car it was engineered to be. It's remarkable, really, this massive iron muscle can be so strong and sure, yet ride so eloquently. It's like a linebacker who writes music.
Therein lies the curiosity of the ZL1. Here is a car that can spend a day at Calabogie Motorsports Park making the driver feel like a champ, despite its 1,987-kilogram curb weight. The 1.9L Roots-style blower and compact intercooler delivers a monstrous, but manageable, degree of compressed air and fuel into high-flow cylinder heads, and the peak power comes on late, so it's more like thunder than lightning. An engine-oil cooler, like that in the Corvette ZR1, keeps the heat down. The heavy-duty, limited-slip rear differential also gets a cooler.
Yet off the track, the ZL1 will cruise just as happily to the county fair without the passengers objecting to a hard ride, cramped quarters or excessive noise. Yes, the top-down driving is far superior to top up, when outside noise intrudes into the cabin, and there is a fair bit of wind. But for the driving itself, the Camaro ZL1 is as much a rewarding touring car as it is track star.
Maybe that's why the Camaro convertible -- the fastest GM has ever built -- costs $64,250 before tax and options, a price that seems $10,000 too high to me. Sure, the electric power steering is properly weighted, the Brembo brakes are up to the most intense stops and the look of the car is not completely overboard, even with its big front splitter (that creates downforce), quad exhaust pipes and 20-inch, black-painted, forged aluminum wheels. But nearly $70K for a Camaro is hard to digest, even if it will be one of the fastest cars in town.
In essence, the ZL1 is easily the Camaro of every teen's dream and a fitting tribute to the ZL1 designation that dates back to 1969. It is not, however, a car any teenager should ever be allowed to drive.
-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013